As Executive Director for three years, Debra has led Middle Way House to almost double the number of people utilizing its New Wings Emergency Shelter. The number of calls handled by Middle Way’s help and crisis line increased from 2,500 in 2017 to 3,700 in 2019; and the number of children served by the Building Healthy Relationships violence prevention program grew from 1,500 in 2017 to 2,250 in 2019.
"Rising through hard work to take the helm of this 70-employee, five-location organization would be hard enough without having the added pressure of being Toby Strout’s successor. But Debra’s expertise and legitimacy from over 15 years of experience at Middle Way House, her two degrees in criminal justice, and her approachable warmth earn her staff’s respect, affection, and loyalty," said her nominator, Erin Hollinden.
She is a graduate of Leadership Bloomington, was Indiana State University’s Criminal Justice Student of the Year and won the 2014 Women’s History Month Emerging Leader Award. She is also the 2020 Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumna of the Year, recognized for making a lasting impact on the community and on Ivy Tech through outstanding professional, philanthropic, or volunteer accomplishments.
Debra is a strong motivator and mentor to many, inspiring others and helping them do their best work. Always thoughtful and encouraging, she puts employees first and shows she believes in their characters and abilities. She thinks through impacts on personal lives of survivors and staff while keeping an eye on the bottom line. In 2018, she helped guide Middle Way’s board of directors through a strategic planning process. And in the COVID-19 crisis, she is keeping a firm focus on client-centered services while overseeing the adaptation of all processes to implement social distancing. For many years, Debra has facilitated a weekly domestic violence survivors’ support group inside the Monroe County jail. Nurturing incarcerated women and helping them transition back into the community is more important to Debra than any other task. She never misses a session.
She leads by example, reminding us all of what’s needed for the greater good—including compassion, open-mindedness, vision, and willingness to change. She listens deeply, carefully considering many possible viewpoints and circumstances when making decisions. Her civic mindedness is evident in her persistently thinking about changing society, beyond what Middle Way House can do alone. Debra educates herself on issues and legislation and develops strong relationships with allies in the police department, sheriff’s office, social services agencies, and partnering nonprofits. She builds good will wherever she goes, promoting peaceful, empathetic interactions every day.
Besides her professional accomplishments, Debra’s effects on our community include raising four children who have become positive contributors to a kinder society. She serves on the New Leaf New Life Board of Directors and has volunteered for Prevent Child Abuse Indiana and the Broadview Neighborhood Association.
And finally, Debra’s most heroic endeavor is courageously sharing her own story as a survivor of abuse, revealing her most vulnerable core, to stand strong with others who do the same and to win support for her important work.
Congratulations on being a 2021 Women Excel Bloomington Honoree, Debra!
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